Building Strategic Capacity

6289722631_b4ae834cacComing up with a good strategy is hard enough, but once you do, you'll often discover that it's just the beginning. That wonderful strategic direction that you've identified has some strings attached. Like the fact that you don't currently have staff who actually know how to implement that strategy! Or your departments are not structured in a way that makes sense for that strategy, or some of your core processes are going to make implementation more difficult. There should be no discussion of strategy that does not include a discussion of capacity.

I think we end up spending too much time in our heads when it comes to strategy. We love the good ideas. We love the retrospective success stories, the "brilliant" strategies. But we're not so interested in the nitty gritty of making strategy happen. True, there is always that danger of getting lost in the weeds of you focus too much on the implementation. But that's why I think we need to think more about capacity than implementation. What capacities need to be increased or shifted to make good on our strategic promises.

And at the risk of becoming too meta, one of the capacities you need is strategic capacity. Does your system have the knowledge, skills, and processes in place to ensure that strategy (and the related capacities) are handled on an ongoing basis. This was the thrust of the challenge that my friend Jeff De Cagna and I presented to the association world eight years ago (I can't believe it's been that long!). Check out this article from GWSAE's Executive Update from May 2005. We talked about "building strategic capacity" in associations, which included doing the hard work of strategy (clarifying those "middle level" principles that guide decision making, rather than broad mission statements or overly detailed and predictive strategic plans), as well as making sure there was a broad group engaged in the strategic conversations and that they were happening continuously rather than just once a year.

Strategy seems straightforward. That's why we use lots of "roadmap" metaphors. Just figure out where you want to go, and plan how to get there. That's an illusion, perpetuated by our irrational commitment to the machine metaphor in running organizations. We want it to be straightforward. We want to be in control. But that's not really consistent with the world as we're experiencing it now.

The organizations that figure out how to design systems that handle strategy without being mechanical in the way they do it are going to leap ahead of everyone else. I think elevating the importance of capacity is a step in the right direction.

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